We be Brethren

Before 1931, there was several species of Methodism in the UK. I have in my study the facsimile of an early nineteenth century cartoon, showing the three main strands with their systems of church government. The Wesleyans were the poshest, and show fat clergymen being carried on the back of an ordinary church member. Priestly tyranny, the smug label states. On the other side are the Primitive Methodists, showing a poor clergyman carrying two noisy church members sitting on his back (Lay Despotism). In the middle, two well-dressed and amicable gentlemen, one a clergyman, the other a layman, arm in arm. We be brethren, is written by them, and this, according to the author, is the perfect balance between the excesses of Primitives and the Wesleyans. It’s an interesting glimpse into the inter-Methodist rivalry some 200 years ago, but its relevance continues today. To what extent should a church be run by a pastor, and to what extent by its members and officers? We Congregationalists opt for the Primitive’s model (or rather, they opted for ours), whereas Presbyterianism is more akin to the cartoonist’s priestly tyranny. 


Former Sulyard Street Wesleyan Chapel, Lancaster

The Wesleyans were the wealthier, more sophisticated breed of methodist. Their members were higher up the social ladder and their greater wealth resulted in grander buildings and a more educated ministry. The Prims drew their members from lower down the hierarchy. These self-made men, less likely to inherit wealth and more used to having others boss them about the workplace, made their churches more democratic. Their ministry was less well remunerated, and their clergy not as well educated. Are we more likely to yield our obedience and respect to a man of letters? The denominations with the best educated clergy tend to wield the greatest power. Catholic priests may take 7-8 years to ‘qualify’ and Anglican clergy must also be university accredited.


100 yards away, Lancaster’s former Primitive Methodist Chapel

The ideal church is not made up of a well-educated minister, whose every word and opinion is seized upon and cherished by his flock, but by a well-schooled congregation whose knowledge of scripture and the faith can hold its own. Then, we be brethren.